All I could think was that I was going to die and I had only just tasted freedom. This is what my measly fifteen years added up too, five of which I couldn't really remember and the rest spent in solitary confinement.
I expected somebody to speak but we were all frozen. The guard had been right, Tiger, which is a stupid name anyway, wouldn’t let us on his property. He stared at as gap toothed as I stared into the barrel of his shot gun. His body was small and covered in layers of knitted sweaters and baggy trousers. His grey hair just about covered his head but it was thin. He reminded me of the doctor a little but you could Tiger had soul. His eyes glittered as he licked his dry lips. When nobody spoke for a couple of minutes he shifted the gun and turned towards.
“Tell me what you are doing in my house or I’ll shoot.” Goodbye cruel world... Somebody spoke and I was surprised to find that it was me.
“We're awfully sorry sir but we had no where else to go. You see our... Stepfather is looking for us and he'll kill us if he does, we're just trying to find our way to our grandma's.” I lied and I must admit it sounded pretty impressive.
Tiger didn't remove the gun from my face. “Why's he lookin' for you?”
“Well, sir he was beating our mother.” Said Noah
“And Noah tried to stop him.” Added Vespa.
“Cassie tried to stop him but he pushed her and she slashed her foot on the glass of his broken beer bottle.” Said Noah convincingly.
“We knew we had to get away, we couldn't save our mother.” Vespa began to cry, real tears. Tiger lowered his shot gun.
“There's no need to cry little missy, I wasn't really gon' hurt your sister.” Tiger spoke more softly. Vespa sniffed and wiped the tears away. “We are sorry sir, but we had no where else to hide.”
I hated that we were lying to him, but he wouldn't be happy to have three mentally unstable teenagers in his house. “I'll put the kettle on.” He said softly, shuffling over to the little kitchen in the left corner of the house.
“Sir,” Noah added. “We hate to ask but could we stay here the night, we can pay our way.”
“As long as you're with me your safe.” My heart warmed at Tiger's generosity. “Name's Tiger.”
“That's an interesting name.” We moved to the table and Vespa created this elaborate story of how she got her name. Apparently our mother had accidentally drove into our father on a Vespa, who upon seeing this woman fell deeply in love. They had us and when I was just eight he died tragically in a car accident. Our mother was driven crazy by his death and met Jonathan, our step father, we were moved into his house in the woods and had to withstand the abuse from him. He apparently caused my crooked nose and the scar above my temple. Noah's injuries was when Jon would catch him with a kitchen knife. Vespa hadn't sustained any injuries. Tiger watched carefully as Vespa wove the lie. I bit my lip in guilt, we had taken advantage of his hospitality. I kicked Vespa under the table to shut her up but shuddered myself as I realised I still had that cut on my foot. I grimaced and Tiger looked at me.
“You ran out without shoes?”
I nodded. Tiger moved to the sink and got a large bucket from the cupboard below. He filled it with warm water. He bought it over to us and set it by my foot.
“It needs to be cleaned. I would do it myself but I can't get that low because of me back. Noel you'll have to do it.” Nobody bothered to correct him. Noah bent by foot and eased it into the water. It was painful, but the pain was good, like the bad was seeping from my foot. Tiger moved around and managed to acquire a bandage. Vespa got up and began making what I supposed was tea. I had never drunk tea before and I didn't know how Vespa knew how to make it but she moved around the kitchen skilfully, Tiger telling her where everything was. Within a few minutes she set the tea down in front of us. Tiger blew over it, spitting a little, and took a sip.
“Ah, you make a good cuppa, like my Ellie.” Tiger said his eyes gazing upwards. “My wife, died nine years ago know, I still think about her everyday.” He seemed to move into a daze as he remembered her. I smiled. I wondered if this was what my parents relationship was like this. Undying and beautiful.
“I'm sorry.” Noah said as he wrapped my foot in the bandage. He was quick but soft. I smiled nervously.
“No point in being sorry, death catches us all eventually.” We all nodded. “Okay.” Tiger laughed. “What would you like for dinner?” We all shrugged, whatever would be good. Tiger moved to his cupboards and rattled around closing and opening doors.
“How does lasagne sound?”
“What's lasagne?” I asked.
Tiger did a double take. “You've never had lasagne, you have not lived yet Missy and it so happens I make the best lasagne in the whole forest.” I laughed, he was practically alone in the forest so I had no idea whether it was good or bad.
“Can we help?” Asked Noah an excited smile on his face.
I didn't realise that making a lasagne would take so long. Tiger coached Vespa, who was easily the best, in making the bolognese sauce and Noah grated cheese. I didn't think Tiger wanted me near anything hot. In getting up to make the lasagne I had already spilt my cup of tea and broken Noah's empty mug. I tiptoed around with the salt and pepper shakers, shaking here and there in the source. Then I had to set up a pot of hot water, and surprisingly I didn't drop, but Noah had to help me carry it over to the stove because it was heavy. When the water boiled I tipped ten sheets of pasta into it. I watched as it changed slowly, making sure to stir it every so often. I wasn't a good cook but the transformation was amazing. Within twenty minutes we had made a wonderful looking lasagne. It smelt delicious. Tiger put it in his tiny oven.
“That'll take around forty minutes. Come on let's go get you some proper clothes, you must be cold. This house is so old it hasn't got a heater.” We nodded but Vespa stayed in the kitchen to cut up some leafs. She seemed to like cooking. I would catch her staring at the food, listening to Tiger intently.
Tiger took up to a room right at the back of the house and handed me a pair of boots and a giant bottle green jumper. I thanked him and went to the bathroom to change. Tiger had no trousers that would fit me and his wife only wore skirts which I politely declined, considering they were longer than me.
“I often get kids coming round here with your sort of clothes on, is it one of those newfangled trends.” Said Tiger. Noah and I stayed silent for a moment, he had a confused look on his face.
“Yeah it's... um Asylum chic.” Noah stared at me and whilst Tiger laughed I shrugged at him. I put the clothing on the toilet and pulled off my gown. I stared at my reflection in the mirror. My body was nothing to be desired. My chest was basically non existent and everything was sharp and angular. The only part of me that a little fat was my cheeks. I wasn't anorexic skinny but I felt my body didn't look right. The little exercise I had done had benefited me in the way that my stomach and legs are firm. I wish I’d had what I’d seen of Vespa's body. She wasn't fat in the slightest but she was curvy. I couldn't help but notice the way Noah watched her bottom when she walked. I had read in books that boys liked girls bums. I turned in the mirror and looked at my own. I tensed. I suppose it wasn't bad but it was kinda flat. I had noticed had an overly large bum that wiggled when she talked, walked or laughed. I stared at to my face it was still unfamiliar to me and I felt like I was just meeting another person.
My hair was long but as unruly as Noah's. It wasn't exactly curly or exactly straight, I ran a finger through it and cringed when I hit a knot. The quite liked the colour, a duller version of the lasagne pasta. My face was weirdly square, I thought as I traced my finger around the edge, although the feel of my face was familiar I hadn't expected to look like this. My cheek bones were wide and led to my apple like cheeks. They shone in the light of the room and were the only part of my skin that had colour. The rest of me was as pale as the walls that had confined me for so long. They were my imprint of the years I spent in the hospital. I moved to my eyes, wide set and deep blue, much darker than Noah's and just slightly grey. My eyelashes were long and fluttery but light coloured, meaning they were feeble compared to Vespa's. As I looked over the rest of my features, my long and crooked nose, my pinky lips, the top of which were slightly upturned, I couldn't help but compare my self to Vespa. She was amazingly beautiful and although I though Noah and I shared something, I knew he though so too. It was her personality too, I was the pathetic baby and she was sexy heroin, independent and daring, ultimately beautiful.
A knock on the door made my thoughts scatter. “Is everything okay in there?” Noah asked, rattling the door knob. I pulled the hospital gown back on then the sweater followed by the socks and boots. I opened the bathroom door moved past Noah quietly and went to the kitchen. As Vespa and Tiger chatted about cooking I sat at the table and rested my head on the wood. The sweater was the most comfortable thing I had every worn. It was like a giant, soft hug and I set it cradle me in it's material. The boots were a little big but the socks made up for it. I looked like a miss matched little doll but I didn't care I was warm and comfy.
“Dinner is served.” Said Tiger putting the glass dish down in front of us. I beamed, proud that I had co create something that looked so delicious. I stuck my fork in and cut of a triangle. Noah and Tiger were already wolfing it down but I suppose Vespa and I wanted to remember this, our first meal out of the hospital. I raised it to my lips and took a bite. It was weird. Not horrible but weird to the point I couldn't tell whether I liked it or not. I took another bite and another and soon the whole thing was gone. I got seconds and kept taking quick little bites. I decided then I did like it. The creamy sauce, the warming filling. I smiled at my empty plate. Noah and I cleared up whilst Tiger got some clothes for Vespa. I watched Noah as we washed the plates.
“Your looking very dapper.” I laughed looking at the clothes Tiger had given him. Tiger was in his eighties, and when he was young the fashion was all 'Teddy boys' and so Noah was dressed in tapered black trousers, a lose white shirt and a thick looking jacket. He still wore Spender's stolen shoes.
“Hey...” Noah blew a round of bubbles at me. “I choose them.” He added proudly.
I laughed. Noah laughed too and then I watched as he stared at something behind me, his mouth dropping slightly. Vespa walked into the kitchen.
Still she wore the stolen shoes but she looked amazing. Dressed in another pair of Tiger's tapered trousers and a black bustier from Ellie complete with a tartan jacket, she looked amazing. Noah clearly thought so too. I felt uncomfortable in my overly large sweater.
Noah and Vespa looked like a teddy boy and girl straight from the fifties. I looked away and pulled the sleeves of the sweater up. I began washing up again. I pulled a cleaned plate from the sink and Noah caught my arm making me drop it. It smashed into tiny pieces and I jumped away quickly.
“Noah!” I shouted.
“What, I was just trying to help.” He laughed.
“Well maybe I don't need help all the time.” I shouted still annoyed. Noah's face looked confused and the argument left the house quiet. I ran out the door. I ran. I couldn't face it. I was crazy they should of just left at the mental hospital. I couldn't take being out here. Being with Noah and Vespa, they were kinda but they left all sorts of thoughts running through my head. All I was to them was a pathetic little girl they had to save, who was clumsy and stupid and who couldn't climb trees. I stopped in front on a tree and kicked it hard with my left foot. I kicked again and again and again. Angry at myself, at Noah for being so likeable, at Vespa for being so beautiful, at Tiger for being so helpful. I missed Spencer, he and I deserved each other, stuck in a world of self loathing and insanity. I fell to the floor crying. I wasn't strong, I wasn't beautiful, I wasn't independent.
“Cassie.” I heard them call for me, why had they given me that name, it wasn't my real one anyway. Why did I delude myself pretending I was someone. I wasn't. I was just a number. I got up and ran further into the woods. I stopped at a tall looking tree and started to climb. I climbed and climbed until I was as high as I could go. I sunk to my knees and tried to stop crying but the tears wouldn't stop, every held breath led to a hiccup that started the tears again. It was like when I had cut my foot, the blood hadn't stopped gushing.
Soon the sobs turned into an effortless scream of emotions. I was oblivious to my surroundings. I closed my eyes and felt the world rock beneath me. How I wanted to just sleep forever existing in the dreamland before death. I was just a stupid insolent child waiting for this delusion of freedom to end. I didn't even realise I was asleep.
In those moments I became vulnerable and when I woke up it was dark and I didn't even recognise my surroundings. I didn't panic I just melted into who ever was carrying me. For a moment I thought it might of been my father and then Spencer. It was only when I opened my eyes I realised it was Noah. I closed my eyes again. I didn't want to look at him, he had yet again saved the baby but I couldn't help but savour the moment, as I lay cradled within his arms. We came to the cabin, he opened the door effortlessly and laid me on the sofa. Vespa was on the other already asleep and so Noah took the floor. I opened my eyes and watched him lie on the hard floor. He looked upwards, unflinching, his eyes open but totally oblivious. When he turned to me I blinked quickly thinking it wasn't real.
“I didn't mean to upset you.”
“I was being stupid.” I muttered.
“Would you stop.” He turned properly onto his side and stared at me, his eyes shining in the darkness.
“Stop what.” I said angrily, trying to keep my voice down so as not to wake Vespa.
A battle ensued on Noah's face as if he was unsure whether to say anything. “You always put your self down. I see that look longing look you give Vespa, as though she's so much better than you.” I stayed silent, not quite sure what to say, was this a compliment or was he telling me I was being pathetic. “You're smart, brave and... and you're pretty too.” Luckily the room was dark and he couldn't of seen how read my face had gone. A smile burst onto my face and it wouldn't fade. Noah had said I was pretty, and smart and brave but most importantly pretty. I turned into the sofa and let that thought send me to sleep, a little laugh escaped Noah's mouth as he settled down too.
The early morning sun filtered through the window and landed on my eyes, shrugging me awake from my slumber. I turned to escape, eager to return to sleeping but the sun was relentless. I opened my eyes slowly and looked to Noah. He had moved a lot in the night and now his already unruly hair was sticking in every which way. His mouth was pulled into a smirk and I wondered what he was dreaming about. I hadn't dreamt of anything at all and it felt as though I had fully recharged. Vespa closed her mouth and snorting waking herself up with a start, she may have been glamorous in her clothes but in unconsciousness, not so much. I laughed as she pushed herself up looking confused. “How did you get back?” She asked, I could tell she was annoyed at me. I pointed at Noah, I didn't need her to be annoyed with me I was already annoyed at myself enough.
“Look.” She said, her voice angry but quiet, “You can't just run out on us, ok. It's stupid and if you get caught we'll get caught, which is selfish.” I knew this, I nodded. Her eyes narrowed. “And please try to be subtle about your crush on Noah it's really pathetic.”
My brow furrowed, I had thought Vespa was nicer, I had hugged her and now I wanted to hit her, but I didn't because she would probably hit me back and end up knocking me out. I nodded again. I had been caught , had I been that obvious. Yes, yes I had.
Vespa got up from the sofa and put the kettle on, then she moved around grabbing cups and surprisingly a notepad and pencil. “Can you write Tiger a note.” I couldn't remember the last time I had written, aside from the blood painting situation, I figured I knew what words looked like I thought I would give it ago. I put the pencil in my hand and began writing random words just to get used to writing. The font was wobbly and barely legible but it was a start.
“What am I writing?” I asked, as Vespa made us all a cup of tea, I hadn't told her that I didn't really like them but I didn't want to argue.
“Just say thanks for the clothes and hospitality, we'll leave him some money for his troubles but I think we should at least explain.”
“Ok.” I set the pencil on a new sheet of the notebook and began writing.
We are so thankful for the hospitality you have shown us, we would've liked to of thanked you directly however we thought it best to leave early. I hope that your kindness treats you well and if we are ever to meet you again, I sincerely promise to cook you some lasagne.
Thank you for the clothes and food, we wish you well for the future.
Lots of love
Cassie, Vespa and Noah
Vespa bought over our teas and took the note from me, she sunk onto her sofa and read. As she did I threw the pencil at Noah. He woke with a start and stared at the pencil wondering how it had gotten there, he finally twigged which sent me into giggles, he threw the pencil back at me. I laughed but then caught Vespa staring at me, hatred practically spilling from her eyes. I stopped laughing.
“Very nice.” Vespa said chucking the notebook at me. “Drink we have to leave soon.” and so we did.
In a few minutes we had drunk our tea and were packing up to leave. Tiger had given Vespa a backpack and she began stuffing things into it; some food from the cupboards, a blanket and some spare clothes. I felt bad as she did because it was as though we were taking advantage of his hospitality. Noah handed Vespa all of the money he had been storing and she hid it in the backpack. Just before we left, Vespa took the tea, the notebook and a little bit of money into Tiger's room and set it on his bedside table.
We left the house quietly and quickly and began our trek, eating packaged cereal as we went. Vespa gave me the backpack as she navigated the map and Noah held another blanket. I felt like one of the girls from the books I had read, with my boots and backpack and sweater, I was an explorer trekking through the woods in search for a medicine that would save the lives of millions of people.
“Why are you so quiet.” Asked Noah.
Vespa interrupted before he could repeat what he had said. “Ok the fence is about nine miles away now and if we walk at this pace.” Which was quite fast. “We could be there in...”
“3 hours.” I said, figuring every mile would take around twenty minutes, the average person could run a mile in twelve minutes.
“Right. Tiger said the edge of the woods was east-ish so if we follow the sun we should be able to find our way there.”
So we walked, and walked and walked some more. I didn't really talk, I didn't want to appear pathetic by talking to Noah and I didn't particularly want to talk to Vespa. Vespa and Noah seemed to do fine without me though, I couldn't be bothered to listen, instead I watched around me. I guessed it had to be coming to the end of summer because the leaves were starting to fall and although it wasn't cold it wasn't particularly warm either. I hugged my sweater around myself and concentrated on my feet. The boots were surprisingly comfortable. When Vespa grabbed my arm I was caught off guard and nearly screamed.
“What.” I whispered angrily.
“Look!” She pointed over to the right where a hundred or so meters away stood around seven people. They were the guards and they were stood by the fence.